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Rock attack!

Rocks are treacherous. No, I don't mean because you can slip on them and break your ankle. I mean that when you least expect it, an innocent-looking rock can jump at you and damage your RV. That's what happened to me a few days ago: I was turning my rig around so I'd have a better view from my office windows when a rock that was sitting quietly on the edge of my campsite suddenly attacked Skylark.

Vicious rock

The rock was cunning, I have to admit: it was just low enough to sneak under my rear bumper, but high enough to slam into the 3" pipe leading from my gray tank to its dump valve. The result of its treachery: a broken pipe.

Broken pipe

Lucky for me it was raining, and nobody was around to see the gray tank's contents spill from the wound. (Still luckier that it wasn't the black tank's pipe!) Just the same, I was left in an untenable situation, unable to shower or use my bathroom or kitchen sink. I had to wash up with hand sanitizer and paper towels, and when I brushed my teeth, I had to spit into the toilet bowl. Not good. All because of a vicious rock!

Well, I'm here to tell you how to deal with the aftermath of an unprovoked rock attack. In my case, before I could fix the break, I had to deal with the fact that my rig's tanks and pipes are covered with a thick layer of sprayed-on foam insulation, the result of an unfortunate choice by the previous owner. This is a lousy idea—not only does it not prevent your tanks and pipes from freezing in an extended cold snap... but once they do freeze, they take a lot longer to thaw, as I can testify from personal experience.

And it goes without saying that any work on the foam-sprayed tanks or associated plumbing requires removing the foam—a hideously messy job even when you're equipped with a mechanic's overalls, a dust mask, and safety glasses. I used a 2" metal putty knife to get off the biggest chunks, then chucked a wirebrush wheel in my power drill and cleaned the pipes down to the bare plastic. (Pardon me while I cough a few times in reminiscence.)

Pipe cleaned

With the foam cleaned off the affected area, I could see what I had to deal with: a fairly clean break at the coupling. The two sections were of differing diameters, which made things trickier. If they'd been the same, I would probably have just wrapped the break with 4" wide Eternabond tape, a wonderful product that will seal almost anything. But Eternabond doesn't stretch to cover irregular surfaces.

So dredging up some ancient wisdom from my boyhood reading of Popular Science magazine, I planned a tin-can repair. In Silverton's tiny grocery store I found just what I was looking for: a six pound, six ounce can of diced tomatoes.

Andy with can

I emptied the can, removed the ends, and cut it lengthwise along the seam. Then I wrapped it around the broken pipes and used a pair of 4" hose clamps to secure it. It wrapped around one and a half times, so I felt pretty good about the physical reinforcement I had provided.

Pipe with can

Next I tackled sealing the repair. First I wrapped 4" Eternabond tape around the can, except where the hose clamps' worm drives prevented it. Eternabond is mainly intended for roof repairs, but it's great for plumbing and tank fixes too. The stuff is incredibly strong, and its butyl rubber adhesive will never harden or loosen up.

Then to complete the job, I wrapped an entire roll of self-fusing rubber tape around everything—hose clamps and all. This stuff lacks the strength of Eternabond, but it's very stretchy, so it covered all the irregularities. (Two-inch Rescue Tape would have been better, but I didn't have enough to do the job.)

Pipe with tape

I had a large cardboard shipping carton underneath me (I carry it under my couch cushion for just such emergencies), so at least I wasn't lying on a bed of gravel while I worked. Still, doing all this wasn't exactly fun, and the intermittent thundershowers that day didn't help. But my friend Jan braved the weather to stand by and hand me tools as needed, and when I got the repair done, I felt pretty good about it. It looked and felt tight and solid.

Next morning, I found out that it leaked.

I shouldn't have been surprised; it's very difficult to get a good seal when joining two pipes of different diameters, as I was. My "bandage" was good enough to let me shower and brush my teeth, but the slow drip... drip... drip from underneath the coach was obviously not something I could live with for long. It was time to call in a pro.

I drove fifty miles to Durango (in my Honda Fit, not in the RV!) and inquired at Tarpley RV, but their service department was booked up for a week. They referred me to an independent mobile RV repair tech, George Green.

George Green's card

I gave him a call, and was floored when he said he could come out to my campground the next morning at 10:00. Good as his word, George showed up the next day with his wife, who assisted as he did the repair. First he cut off the damaged pipe sections, then installed a new 90° elbow with a rubber coupling that allows for a little flexibility in the pipes, reducing the chances of another break.

Making the repair

The repair took half an hour, and George, who had to drive from Durango and back, only charged me a hundred bucks. I was happy to pay it. It was well worth it for the on-site service... and I didn't have to drive my motorhome a hundred miles through the mountains!

Pipe fixed

By the way, I bought one of those 3" rubber couplings at Ace Hardware, just to have on hand. I figured for $7.99, it was cheap insurance.

As for that rock, it's still lurking over at the edge of the campsite. But I'm keeping a close watch on it. "Never trust a rock"—that's my new motto.

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© 2012 by Andy Baird. For an index of my other websites, see the andybaird.com homepage.